Remember when movies started with the lights dimming and the curtain opening?
I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie that started with the curtains dramatically sweeping apart as the projector chattered its images upon it.
There were no advertising slide shows to keep us occupied while we waited for the feature to begin. It was just you, your popcorn and your anticipation, staring with bated breath at an enormous drape.
When we were kids, my brother and I used to sit in the front row of the Alex Theatre. We’d pretend like we knew when the lights were dimming before the other one did, like we could make the curtain open with our will.
“It’s going to open now!”
“No . . . now!”
“OK, really, it’s opening . . . now!”
It’s that kind of anticipation we’d also get when school let out and summer began. After nine months of structure and order, of doing what others told us to do, we were finally facing emancipation.
The freedom to sleep in so late you developed bed sores and had a hard time telling reality from dreams. Waking up each morning and wondering, “What am I going to do today?”
Swimming pool? Beach? Sandlot? Mall? Couch?
You’d leave the house with only the remotest of plans and see where the day took you. Maybe you’d end up at a friend’s house who had a pool. Or the local swimming spot. The rest of the day was spent alternating between water, lounge chair and sun-warmed concrete.
Remember the sensation of the hot deck on your cold, wet back, a breeze blowing over you, making every follicle on your body light up? Your peace would soon be broken by one of your friends hopping up and down on one foot trying to get the water out of their ear.
Or a lazy day at the beach. Playing in the surf then resting on your towel, feeling your salty skin tighten as the sun evaporated the moisture off your body. You’d go home with sand in your crotch and ocean tar super-bonded to the bottom of your feet.
At least once each summer you’d get a sunburn so bad it felt like you were on fire. Simple movement became a ritual torture, and even bed was your enemy. But it always felt so good when you began to peel and your mom would scratch and pull pieces of dead skin off your back.
If we weren’t in a pool, we were exploring the hills and woodlands, following deer trails or blazing our own. Sometimes we’d ride our bikes or skateboards so far away we’d have to call home to be picked up lest we not make it back in time for dinner.
Ice cream was meant to be eaten outdoors, preferably while watching the sky go from pale to cobalt blue and fading to black. Witnessing the streetlights turn on was sufficient reward for a day well-seized.
The nights were warm and long and spent with friends talking, just talking. Everything was hysterically funny or intensely serious. Maybe you’d count stars. We’d count insects being horrifically executed in the neighbor’s bug zapper.
And the day wasn’t over unless you came home reeking of dirt, sumac or chlorine.
Summer. When the world smells of hot asphalt, coconut lotion and dust; and time is an empty vessel you fill with your heart’s desire.
When do we lose that wonder for the world? Is it when we start a career and have each day dictated for us?
Is it when we have a family and live more for them then for ourselves?
Could be either, or both, or something else entirely.
But I guess the more important question is, how can we get that wonder back? Even just a little bit. Is it possible for us to wake up each day and look forward to what it will bring, wonder with excitement at what we are going to do today?
Ask yourself this: When my eyes first open in the morning and the day begins to unfold before me, do I feel a sense of drudgery? Or do I feel delight?
If it’s the former, you’re probably normal.
If it’s the latter, you need to let us in on something.
I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. But I do know that there are moments of delight, moments of wonder when everything just feels right. Those moments are where you plant your flag and claim your high ground. Isn’t it amazing how those moments, however infrequent, wash away everything else?
I’m sitting in the front row, and my brother is next to me, anxious and excited. We’re looking up at that curtain waiting for the lights to dim. Waiting. Anticipating. Imagining. Hoping.
OK . . . now!